Farmers in India are committing suicide at an alarming rate. The issue of farmers’ suicide is brought forward only in one circumstance — for trashing others. Whether it’s trashing the ruling party or the people sympathizing with a celebrity who has committed suicide after struggling with depression for a while.
The plight of farmers is becoming so “normal” to people’s ears that even mainstream media neglects it until the death rate is extremely high, or well, higher than “normal” or the topic could be used as a weapon to trash the government’s policies or the government itself.
It is no surprise that those supposed human rights activists shouting slogans and fighting against the alleged inhumane treatment of those convicted as terrorists find it hard to stand up for the plight of our farmers.
Farmers Suicide: Some Horrifying Statistics
According to National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) of India, almost 5650 farmers in India committed suicide in the year 2014 alone. That means every hour one farmer commits suicide in India. While tall promises has been made to the farmers by every successive government, the ground reality seems fairly different.
Traditionally, Indian agriculture has largely been dependent on the monsoon and untimely rains or delayed monsoon has caused great losses to the farmers. Gradually, with the development of irrigation facilities, this dependency on rain has decreased.
Consequent to the growing use of technologically advanced methods of farming, high yielding variety of seeds, modern irrigation facilities etc., crop failure has been dramatically reduced. But, the question that still needs to be in the immediate focus is — Why?
Why are these farmers in India committing suicide? Does suicide seem to be the only answer they have for their condition? Are the reasons behind this horrifying suicidal tendency in the Indian farmers natural like crop failure or climate change? Or rather man made owing to the lack of attention these farmers lives deserve and work towards the same?
A Deeper Look at Farmers in India Committing Suicide
Another major question that needs to be answered is if the official data regarding farmers suicide in India paint a real picture or is it an underestimation? The statistics by NCRB are based on the reported cases of suicides. Many families in small towns and villages consider suicide a taboo and refuse to report the same. Moreover, NCRB does not take into account the suicide of agricultural workers, who are also primarily dependent on agriculture for their livelihood.
Interestingly, these suicides are largely concentrated among few states that are the main farming clusters, namely – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh. Overall, these five states accounted for more than half of the suicides committed among the farmers in India.
Reasons for Suicide of Farmers in India
Suicide is a drastic step and a person is compelled to commit suicide when he or she is devoid of hope whatsoever. Regardless of the steps taken by the respective state government, why does suicide present itself as the only solution to the worries of Indian farmers?
Poverty: Already struck with poverty, the Indian farmers resort to traditional ways of agriculture using poor quality seeds and fertilizers. These poor quality seeds do not yield enough produce and most of them die due to pests, ultimately leading to crop failure, owing to their defective quality resulting in heavy losses to the farmers.
Climate change: The Indian farmers are heavily dependent on rain to irrigate their fields. Global warming has an adverse effect on monsoon causing late arrival of monsoon and irregular rain. This leads to heavy casualties faced by farmers.
Debt trap: This is one of the major reasons behind the Indian farmers committing suicide. Most of the Indian farmers do not own land on which they cultivate. The land is rented from big landlords, who either take more than half of the produce as rent or, in case of crop failure, demand large sums of money. On the other hand, those farmers who do own the land on which they cultivate have to borrow money to pay for fertilizers, seeds, pesticides etc. The absence of any adequate security (in the form of land,gold etc) to offer to the banks, these farmers have to resort to the unorganized capital market charging heavy rates of interest. Even in case of good enough harvest, major portion of the sale goes into paying the loan and the interest thereon, leaving little savings and the cycle of borrowing money and paying interest carries on.
Unfortunately, if the production is not up to mark in some years, the farmers have to borrow even more money, again from the unorganized market to pay off the previous loan and interest. Horrifyingly, sometimes the debt trap continues through generations; that is if a farmer dies without paying his loan, the debt burden falls on his son and so on.
Dubious policy decisions: Our policy decisions are driving the farmers to their early grave. For example, getting a car loan in India is easy and the rate of interest is within the reasonable limits. On the other hand, getting a loan for tractor, a farming vehicle used for ploughing fields, is comparatively difficult and the interest rate is almost double of that of car loans. Banks also refuse to provide loans to the farmers due to lack of securities.
GMO crops: A number of studies suggest a link between genetically modified crops and farmers’ suicide. GMO crops’ seeds cost more than the ordinary ones. Considering GMO seeds that are claimed to be pest repellent, Indian farmers borrowed more money to buy these GMO seeds. The moneylenders forced the farmers to sell the harvest to them at less than market value. This further led to farmers being caught in debt trap.
Suicide of Farmers in India: The GMO Connection
However, the relation between GMO crops and increase in farmers’ suicide is highly debated and there is no conclusive evidence to the same.
Other reasons that force the farmers to take the drastic step of suicide includes stress, family responsibilities, poverty, family disputes, losses in farm or non-farm activities, chronic illness etc…
Interestingly, an analysis of the reasons for farmers suicide in India suggest us that most of these reasons are within our control. Introducing proper irrigation facilities to reduce dependency on rain, providing loan facilities to the farmers at low interest rates, promoting self help groups and cooperative societies among farmers etc can help in bringing down the appalling rate of farmers’ suicide in India.